- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

On the surface, it would appear that more than the usual pride is riding on today’s Army-Navy game in West Point, N.Y.

The winner probably will land a spot in the top 10 of next week’s rankings, as well as a victory over a team likely to be in the NCAA tournament hunt until May. The inside track to play host to the Patriot League tournament also is at stake.

But none of those things matter as much as the rivalry between the eighth-ranked Midshipmen (5-1, 4-0 Patriot) and 11th-ranked Black Knights (4-1, 1-0).

“Right now it’s just Army-Navy,” Midshipmen coach Richie Meade said. “Our kids are not stupid. We don’t have to tell them it’s part of the deal. But you can’t make the game any bigger than it already is. To the players and the coaches, the implications of victory and defeat are not more important than victory or defeat.”

The game also will showcase the re-emergence of the service academies.

Navy has won at North Carolina and is poised to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999. Army, which went to the postseason last year, upended then-No.4 Rutgers last week and put a scare into Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last month. Air Force (2-4) defeated Virginia to begin its season and later forced Army into overtime on the road.

With both Army and Navy in the postseason hunt, two academies could reach the NCAAs for the first time since both made the 1993 tournament.

“It’s terrific for the service academies to compete against the athletic scholarship schools,” Army coach Jack Emmer said. “We take a great deal of pride to be able to do that. The fact that we’re all doing that speaks well for the service academies. In general, it will help our recruiting. We’ll be recognized by young kids that we can run with the top-10 teams.”

Mids’ reality check

Of all the adjustments Navy had to make this week, none was more striking than re-adapting to the weather in Annapolis.

The Mids spent much of their spring break in Orlando, Fla., capping the trip with a 21-6 rout of Colgate last Saturday before coming home to resume classes and prepare for Army.

“On Monday, it was 42 degrees and windy. I said, ‘Boys, we’re back from la-la land. Mickey Mouse isn’t going to show up on this field, and at the end of the week it’ll probably be raining up in West Point,’ ” Meade said. “That got us back to reality.”

No blues in Carolina

North Carolina has been among the country’s most youthful teams the last few years, but the suddenly veteran Tar Heels have more than experience to thank for their 5-1 start.

“[Experience] helps any team, but our biggest focus was to get some consistency,” coach John Haus said. “Last year we’d have a big win and come back with a poor outing. We focused on consistency and playing well week in and week out.”

The fourth-ranked Tar Heels have done that, though they did suffer an early hiccup at home against Navy. Since then, Carolina has ripped off four straight road wins, sweeping a western swing against Air Force, Denver and Notre Dame before edging Duke last weekend in the Tar Heels’ ACC opener.

Once a postseason regular, the Tar Heels seem well on their way to their first NCAA tournament bid since 1998. A victory today over second-ranked Maryland (6-0, 1-0 ACC) in Chapel Hill, N.C., would boost Carolina’s already impressive resume.

“We go into it with the realization we’re an underdog,” said Haus, who is in his fourth season at his alma mater. “They’re as good a lacrosse team as we’ve seen all year. They’re so well-balanced. They create havoc at attack and in the midfield, and we’re going to have to contain them. At the other end, everyone knows Maryland plays great defense … We’re going to have to play our best game to be successful.”

Hoyas hit stride

No. 6 Georgetown (4-1) has slowly crept up in the rankings during its four-game winning streak and visits No. 7 Duke (4-2) today in one of the weekend’s most intriguing matchups.

The Hoyas traditionally have played the Blue Devils the Sunday after Duke’s midweek meeting with North Carolina, but that ACC game was shifted to a weekend date this year. Now both teams have had a full week to prepare for a rivalry decided by three or fewer goals in seven of the last eight meetings.

“The Duke game is always a little bit special for our players in particular,” Georgetown coach Dave Urick said. “It’s a game we seem to get a little more intense about. It’s a reasonable assumption [that Duke does too]. … It’s always been a very physical game, very intense. We’re very similar types of teams. I don’t expect it to be different.”

Cavaliers savor victory

The sigh of relief heard last weekend was defending national champion Virginia putting an end to its four-game losing streak — the program’s longest since 1987 — with an overtime defeat of Towson.

“I would say we were able to catch our breath,” coach Dom Starsia said. “I wouldn’t make it any more dramatic than that. Everybody’s just a little more comfortable. Everybody was tight the last couple weeks, and getting a win just helped everyone catch their breath a little bit.”

The No. 14 Cavaliers (2-4) soon could be panting again because top-ranked Johns Hopkins (5-0) visits Charlottesville tonight in a rematch of last May’s national title game. The Blue Jays, who are off to their best start in nine years, are coming off a 17-5 evisceration of Syracuse in which they won 20 of 24 faceoffs.

“I think they’re clearly right now the best team. They have the most complete personnel and they’re on a roll,” Starsia said. “If they can win faceoffs, you’re going to have problems. They’re throwing the ball around and shooting with such confidence.”a

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